How one man took on the scumbag “phantom debt” industry

I'm an optimistic guy. I believe that most people are basically good. So far, life has proved me correct.

That said, I'm not naive. I know there are still plenty of scumbags out there — and that many of these scumbags prey on the unsuspecting in order to line their pockets with profit.

The Trouble with Phantom Debt

Recently, for instance, Kim has been receiving phone calls from a company purporting to be collecting a debt owed to the Internal Revenue Service. Kim knows she doesn't owe the IRS anything. She's always paid her taxes in full. This company is attempting to coerce her into paying on what is known as a phantom debt — a debt she does not owe.

You might think that nobody could fall for such a scam, but you'd be surprised. Millions of people do. So many, in fact, that this is a very profitable “industry” that cons victims out of at least $23 million per year. (And that's just the IRS scams. Other zombie debt scams rake in even more.)

But not everyone is willing to ignore these calls (or to acquiesce, as the case may be). Earlier today, Bloomberg published a story by Zeke Faux that describes how one victim of a “phantom debt” scam fought back — with a vengeance.

Fighting Back

Andrew Therrien is a salesman from Rhode Island. In 2015, he began to receive threatening calls about a debt he did not owe. Worse, the debt collectors threatened to rape his wife. (WTF?)

For once, the scumbags messed with the wrong guy.

Over the next two years, Therrien spent hundreds of hours (and even flew across the country!) turning the tables on the debt collectors. From the story:

By day [Therrien] was still promoting ice cream brands and hiring models for liquor store tastings. But in his spare time, he was living out a revenge fantasy. He befriended loan sharks and blackmailed crooked collectors, getting them to divulge their suppliers, and then their suppliers above them. In method, Therrien was like a prosecutor flipping gangster underlings to get to lieutenants and then the boss. In spirit, he was a bit like Liam Neeson’s vigilante character in the movie Taken — using unflagging aggression to obtain scraps of information and reverse-engineer a criminal syndicate.

Therrien doggedly worked his way from low-end debt collectors to their bosses, then to their bosses, eventually confronting a billion-dollar businessman who might as well be called King of the Scumbags: a guy named Joel Tucker from Kansas City, Missouri.

Taking It to the Top

A year after he'd started his crusade, Therrien managed to get Tucker on the phone. He recorded the call.

“I’ll tell you why I care,” Therrien said calmly. “I’ll tell you why I care. I believe, and I'm just telling you what I believe, you sold my personal information 21 separate times. I've gotten close to 100 f—ing calls, and because I've gotten those 100 calls from scumbag collectors that you facilitated, I'm going to make sure that that kind of shit ends now.”

Tucker was incredulous: “You think this is my fault?”


“I know what happened. You f—ing stole money from people,” Therrien said. “I’m giving you the opportunity to come clean.”

“I don’t know who you are, Andrew,” Tucker said. “Who are you?”

“A person that you f—ed with too many times.”

As a fan of righteous anger (and good writing), I couldn't stop reading this story. (If it were a book, I'd call it “un-put-downable”.)

It's long — over 4000 words! — but well worth your time if you like tales of justice served. But it's also enlightening. I had no idea that the “phantom debt” problem was so wide-spread…and that so many people fall for this sort of scam.

More about...Debt

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3 years ago

I second your un-put-downable.

Michael | The Student Loan Sherpa
Michael | The Student Loan Sherpa
3 years ago

A lot of people also get calls about phantom student loan debt. I find these calls especially egregious because many people do legitimately owe student debt and if often changes lenders or servicers without the borrower getting notice, so a new company calling about student loans isn’t unusual.

It would be a dream to go after these guys like Therrien did.

3 years ago

I believe if you watch Netflix’s documentary series Bad Money, it is the first episode that contains Tucker getting everything confiscated by the FBI and still denying any wrong doing.